27 September 2023

It’s not human to be perfect

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Bruce Kasanoff* relates a breakfast calamity with tea and oatmeal to illustrate the need to admit our mistakes when we mess up.

You make it far easier for people to relate to you and your insights when you share a genuine and open picture of yourself.

(Translation: A lesson about your mistakes is likely to resonate far more than one about your wisdom).

Are you familiar with the term ‘psychological safety’?

It has come to be applied by many as referring to a corporate culture in which individuals feel comfortable displaying their genuine self at work.

This has led me to create a two-part definition of what it means to be a genuine leader.

First, being true to your own self in how you communicate and act at work.

Second, creating the conditions that not only allow — but also encourage — your employees to do the same.

To be a leader who is true to his or her self, and to encourage others to do the same, requires a commitment to be genuine.

This is a commitment that extends from social media to personal interactions, to performance measurement and compensation and finally to corporate culture itself.

It implies that being genuine is more important than any specific desired behaviour.

As researcher, Julianna Pillemer writes: “There may be clear organisational expectations for desired behaviour, and there’s a potential downside to acting in a way that’s actually genuine.”

Assistant Professor Pillemer cites a consultant friend who perfectly encapsulated this challenge:

The friend says: “Not only do I have to deliver a perfectly polished presentation, but then go out for drinks with the client, seem like a really fun, genuine person, and tell them all about my life.”

The way out of this perceived trap revolves around a single phrase: To be genuine rather than to seem genuine.

It means being honest about your flaws as well as your strengths.

It means asking for help instead of simply trying to be the smartest person in the room.

For leaders, it means rewarding honesty and credibility rather than adherence to what a leader wants to hear.

One morning I made myself a bowl of oatmeal, poured an iced tea, and headed towards my home office.

I was already preoccupied with work and not really paying attention.

My toe caught the edge of the second step.

Wham! Oatmeal and tea splattered everywhere.

At 7:58:01 I was excited about a great new idea.

At 7:58:31 I was mopping up a mess.

This is a trivial example, but it’s also the way life is.

The one thing all human beings have in common is that we all make mistakes.

Some of them are minor, and easily resolved.

Others take years to clean up.

By sharing your mistakes, you come across as a genuine human being… and you make it easier for the people around you to also be open and honest.

So, when you mess up, admit it.

Share it on social media as I did.

I advise my clients to bring errors out of the shadows.

Model behaviour that shows others it’s about cutting ourselves a break, trying to get smarter, but also admitting that trial and error is the fundamental nature of our world.

Much as business managers might try to engineer faults out of the system, that’s just not the way life works.

When all you do online is to ‘share wisdom’, you become two-dimensional and appear less like a human being and more like a carefully-curated caricature of yourself.

When you mess up, share it.

*Bruce Kasanoff is the founder of The Journey, a newsletter for positive, uplifting and accomplished professionals. He can be contacted at kasanoff.com.

This article first appeared at kasanoff.com.

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